Donald Trump

Trump’s former lawyer Cohen pleas for leniency to avoid prison 

  • Michael Cohen argues he should be spared jail because he’s spilling secrets to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the US president
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 10:35pm

Donald Trump’s former lawyer has pleaded for leniency, telling a judge he should be spared from prison because he’s spilling secrets to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the president and his company.

Michael Cohen’s lawyers made the request on Friday, one day after his dramatic appearance in federal court, where he admitted he lied to Congress about the Trump Organisation’s effort to build a Moscow tower.

Only months ago, Cohen’s bid to remain free would have been unimaginable. In April, after FBI agents raided his home, office and hotel suite, he appeared headed to prison in a separate tax-evasion and campaign-finance case built on what appeared to be overwhelming evidence.

But Cohen, once among the president’s most loyal allies, turned on Trump after pleading guilty and provided prosecutors with detailed accounts of his possible wrongdoing. In court in August, he told a judge that he violated campaign-finance laws at the president’s direction and, on Thursday, said he lied to congress to remain consistent with Trump’s messaging on the campaign trail.

“Michael’s decision to cooperate required and requires singular determination and personal conviction,” his lawyers said in a court filing late Friday in Manhattan federal court. “He could have fought the government and continued to hold the party line, positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency, but, instead -- for himself, his family and his country -- he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital.”

Cohen’s lawyers said their client had seven meetings with the Special Counsel’s office, met twice with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and talked to representatives of the New York attorney general’s office, which is suing Trump over his foundation. Cohen “also provided the NYAG with documents concerning a separate open inquiry”, according to the filing.

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Cohen’s cooperation has come despite the withering fury of Trump and his supporters, the lawyers noted.

“In the context of this raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States, Michael, formerly a confidante and adviser to Mr. Trump, resolved to cooperate, and voluntarily took the first steps toward doing so even before he was charged,” they wrote in a legal brief. “He expects to cooperate further.”

Cohen, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 12 in the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case. His lawyers are seeking to have the two cases consolidated before a single judge and for him to be sentenced on both at the same time. Prosecutors in Mueller’s office, which is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, have agreed to brief the sentencing judge on Cohen’s cooperation.

Cohen faces more than five years in prison in the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case and as long as six months behind bars in the lying-to-Congress case, under recommended federal guidelines. But the judge could slash the sentence because of Cohen’s cooperation. Technically, prosecutors will file their sentencing recommendation at a later point.

Cohen pleaded guilty to nine felonies in the two cases. On August 21, he admitted his role in hush-money payments to two women, adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election, to prevent them from publicising their claims of extramarital affairs with Trump. He’s to be sentenced for two campaign finance violations, five counts of tax evasion and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution.

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Cohen didn’t then have a cooperation deal, but his lawyer said Cohen was eager to help the government in exchange for leniency. Cohen had worked for Trump for about a decade -- first at the Trump Organisation and later as a close aide during his boss’s campaign for president. He famously said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump.

Cohen set out to win over prosecutors both in Manhattan, where the tax-evasion and campaign-finance case was handled, and in the Special Counsel’s office in Washington. Over the ensuing months, he had multiple meetings with Mueller’s team.

On Thursday, with the lying-to-Congress charge added to the mix, Cohen said his work on a plan to build a Trump tower in Moscow continued into June 2016, after Trump had locked up the GOP nomination. He said he lied when he told Congress that the Moscow project was abandoned that January, before the Republican primaries.

He also said in his guilty plea that he updated Trump on the proposed deal more frequently than he had previously acknowledged, briefed Trump’s family members (whom he didn’t identify), and had a 20-minute call with an aide to a Kremlin official. Cohen told the court he lied to be consistent with Trump’s campaign positions and out of a sense of loyalty.

The revelation tied Trump to Russia throughout much of the campaign and suggested that Trump had misled the public in July 2016 when he said he had no business dealings with Russia.

The Moscow plan ended on June 14, 2016, the same day the Washington Post reported that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee. Days earlier, three senior campaign officials held an infamous meeting in Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, one of numerous contacts between Russians and campaign officials under scrutiny.

Trump on Thursday said he had decided not to pursue the Moscow project, but that there would have been nothing wrong if he had. He said he had been focused on running for president in 2016 but that no rule prevented him from continuing to do business.

He was also quick to dismiss Cohen’s plea as a non-issue, branding his former lawyer as a liar and “weak person” who was making up a story to cut his prison sentence.